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Josep Pijiula, also known as ‘Garrell’, is the kind of person everyone should meet at least once in a lifetime, even if only on film. A distinctive celebration of half a lifetime spent either escaping from or fighting against a world where he doesn’t feel at home, Jordi Morato’s homage to the Catalan man who built himself a forest city to play in is exhilarating and thought-provoking viewing. There are those who’d just call Garrell crazy and move on, but anyone who’s ever yearned for a freedom their desk job isn’t giving them will let out a Tarzan-like howl of approval at The Creator of the Jungle.
At some point in his 40s, Garrell decided that he again wanted to play in the forest in Spain’s Girona province where he’d played as a child. He returned and started to reroute streams to make swimming pools, and to build ramshackle huts, a labyrinth, and sometimes unsettling naif decorative constructions. His progress was videoed over six summers by the then-14 year-old Aleix Oliveras, and Aleix’s granular, surprisingly accomplished footage, carefully shaped by Morato and Laia Ribas, make up most of the running time.
Inevitably the vandals came to Garrell’s city, so he had the idea of making a resistance movie, Tarzan 3, to be shot by Aleix. It’s wonderfully surreal stuff, though maybe there’s too much of it. A loincloth-clad Garrell was the star, escaping from what he ironically refers to as “civilized man”. Later installments of the film feature Garrell as Tarzan teaching his young nephew, and later a friend of Aleix, jungle lore — scenes in which he comes over as the best uncle in the world.
There are no interviews with the fantastically fit and admirable Garrell, who is best described as irrepressible, healthily crazy, and carefree, and it’s to Morato’s credit that he neither treats his latter-day Tarzan as an anthropological curiosity or a freak. But neither does he dig deeper, for example by exploring the socio-psychological reasons for Garrell’s doing the things he does or putting his story into a wider context. We learn nothing about how our hero earns his money (he was a textile worker) or learned his considerable crafting skills: the somewhat limiting suggestion is that it’s only here, in his jungle, that the real Garrell exists.
Given the subject, it would be practically impossible to make an unentertaining film. Most of Morato’s directorial work is done over the last fifteen minutes, when the quality of the visuals inevitably improves and things become explicitly and ponderously metaphorical: the long, slow shot of a teddy bear burning, for example. The rather monotonously-delivered Catalan-language voiceover by Morato himself follows chronology and is sometimes a little too literal, but it is at least never pretentious, telling the story in a down-to-earth manner that his subject probably approves of.
Garrell is the kind of universal outsider figure who can easily be co-opted into a thousand different movements, and his work has indeed been celebrated by experts as fine examples of outsider art. ‘The Creator of the Jungle’ is indeed the record of his obsession with casting off society’s shackles and being free, one which should strike a chord with any latter-day wannabe Thoreaus who get a chance to see it. It’s a view which Morato’s voiceover drives home at every available chance, but one wonders whether Garrell himself would be quite so quick to recognize himself as a symbol of resistance.
Perhaps Garrell justs wants to have fun, to run around in a loin cloth and leap into pools undisturbed. “I want to live in a world that doesn’t exist,” he complains at one point, “but I always fail”. He in fact fails twice, each time destroying and rebuilding his entire project from scratch, smiling as he burns down his life’s work, stoically happy even when defeated first by highway construction plans and then by bureaucracy. Once the king of the jungle, Garrell is now, in his own words, the king of fire: and even now, at 76, you suspect we haven’t seen the last of him.
Production company: La Termita Films, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Cast: Josep Pijiula (Garrell), Ricard Ayats, Ivo Pijiula, Aleix Oliveras, Josep M. Costa, Albert Pujolar, Jordi Pujolar, David Fernandez
Director, screenwriter: Jordi Morato
Executive producers: Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta, Jordi Morato
Director of photography: Jordi Morato, Laia Ribas
Editors: Jordi Morato, Laia Ribas
Composer: Charly Torrebadella
Sales: La Termita Films
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